It’s hard to articulate what it feels like to spend a lifetime being told that you are not allowed. Not always in so many words, but in gestures, in spaces, in thoughtlessness.
If we give it to youeveryone will be wanting one
Why isn’t this thing that someone who isn’t you found perfectly acceptable enough? We spent all this money on it.
Maybe you are tired and need to sit, for instance. Here is a chair. Maybe you are pregnant and feeling dizzy. Here is a chair for you, too. Maybe you have difficulty standing for long periods due to a spinal cord injury. You also should have a chair. The need is the chair, to allow you to participate. Why you need it is less important. You know what you need and you tell me and I do not assume anything more.
I watch things that were impossible before the Covid-19 era—chairs for everyone, rather than a bitter fight to be permitted a single one—suddenly become standard, and I think: What if society had valued disabled people all this time? What if society didn’t have to hastily accommodate remote workers because we were already here, fully valued? What if society didn’t have to scream about wearing a mask to the grocery store because caring for yourself and others was part of the fabric of life? What if society recognized that access is equity? What if society thought forcing people to fight their way through a crowded kitchen during service to participate in an event was not okay? What if concerts had sensory-friendly spaces?
Accommodations only became “worth it”—acceptable—when they became personal, when, suddenly, they affected the people who previously believed they would skim through life untouched. Then, they were everywhere, the subject of helpful guides and aspirational Instagram spreads. They were no longer threatening, no longer special treatment, no longer impossible. They shifted into the new status quo because everyone needed accommodating.
What is perhaps most tragic about this is that this was all disabled people ever wanted.
This, a world where everyone is able to participate without feeling shame or fighting tooth and claw for a seat, could be our shared future, if we want it. But I need you to want it.
My plane on the way home from a trip to visit friends got caught in a waiting spiral over the Bay, fog at SFO slowing air traffic control. We drifted lazily. I gazed out the window, book forgotten on my lap, watching the Bay Area slide beneath us, imagining I could see my friend’s car on its way to pick me up, leaning forward with the aircraft as it banked and swooped back to Earth, rumbled over a maze of runways through the gloom to the gate. After the airport disgorged me from its hungry maw, I balanced awkwardly on the curb, looking for a familiar car. When it emerged, something lifted away from me—not just the stress and demands of travel but the expectations that I play normal. My friend would toss me a drink and put something good on the stereo and let me just be—no expectations of small talk. Years of knowing one another has led to countless tiny unspoken accommodations like these between us, in a friendship built on valuing our mutual humanity.
As we drove over the bridge and through the suburbs, I caught sight of the park where I waited all those years ago, a lifetime away. A familiar song came on. Was it? It was. We have changed so much since then, but neither of us could resist turning the stereo up to sing along.